With so many things to see and do in magnificent Yosemite National Park, you need at least a week to do them all and a prioritized list to make best use of your time.
If you can’t find a campground or lodging in Yosemite, we recommend the Yosemite Pines Campground in Groveland.
Just after Half-Dome (we recommend the view from Glacier Point), you must visit the Mariposa Grove. This is where you will find more than 500 giant sequoias, most of them at least 1,000 years old.
This post contains affiliate links. To learn more, read our DISCLAIMER here.
Improved Access to Giant Sequoias at Yosemite
For three years, access to the Mariposa Grove was closed as specialists with the National Park Service rearranged the visitor experience while better providing for the overall welfare of the trees. It reopened again on June 15, 2018 and we were there just a week later.
The reason for the remodel was simple – making sure the magnificent trees remain healthy for generations to come.
In the 1950s, a concrete parking lot for about 120 cars was built right in the middle of the lower grove. The 20 acre parking lot shed a lot of rain water away from the trees, whose root systems can spread out for hundreds of yards. And these big old trees need a lot of moisture to stay healthy. When their roots are covered in concrete, they are not getting the moisture they need.
Each year, almost five million passionate visitors enter the gates of Yosemite intent on experiencing one of America’s greatest national treasures. Of course, not all of them visit the Mariposa Grove, but even a million people traipsing around the base of these giant sequoias creates a problem. Think what that many people would do to your front yard, pounding the soil into a harden rock by years and years of heavy footsteps.
The same thing was happening in the forest around these giant sequoias. The soil was getting so compacted that moisture and nutrients could not reach the roots in a healthy, natural path.
So, the park service removed all the concrete and built a bigger gravel parking lot at Yosemite’s south entrance. Now visitors arrive via tram to improved trails that wind through the grove, allowing us to more gently interact with these magnificent trees.
They are considered the oldest living things on earth and hopefully, now they will live a little longer. There are two smaller groves of giant sequoias in Yosemite — the Tuolumne and Merced Groves. Take time to see them as well.
What to See at the Mariposa Grove in Yosemite
In 1895, about five years after Abraham Lincoln declared this a national park, somebody got the brilliant idea to cut a hole in one of the trees big enough for a horse and buggy filled with tourists to pass through.
Oh, to be able to go back in time and slap that guy! But the tree still lives and yes, you can walk through it today. It is the only such tree in the U.S.
Among the sequoias in this grove is the Grizzly Giant. At more than 210 feet tall and 92 feet in circumference at the base, it is the 25th biggest tree in the world in total mass. Scientists estimate it is around 2500 years old.
Some trees have grown together in weird mutations and fire has created remarkable abnormalities in others. We hiked for about two hours in the peace and quiet, in the shadows of these earthly treasures, and once again marveled at the gifts of Mother Nature.
God Stands Before You in These Trees
When I was 12 years old, our Griswold family vacation took us to the Redwood National Park in northern California. Redwoods are taller and more slender family members of the giant sequoias at Yosemite.
My mother bought a postcard with a poem written by Joseph B. Strauss in 1932. I was just a child and had seen so little of the world, but his words expressed the feelings I was unable to articulate at the time. I memorized the poem then and as I stood in the newly accessible Mariposa Grove in Yosemite as a well-traveled, experienced adult, I remembered just two lines from Strauss’ composition:
“Sink down, O traveler, on your knees, God stands before you in these trees.”
Here, sown by the Creator’s hand,
In serried ranks, the Redwoods stand;
No other clime is honored so,
No other lands their glory know.
The greatest of Earth’s living forms,
Tall conquerors that laugh at storms;
Their challenge still unanswered rings,
Through fifty centuries of kings.
This is their temple, vaulted high,
And here we pause with reverent eye,
With silent tongue and awe-struck soul;
For here we sense life’s proper goal.
To be like these, straight, true and fine,
To make our world, like theirs, a shrine;
Sink down, O traveler, on your knees,
God stands before you in these trees.
~Joseph B. Strauss.